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What is Functional Occlusion?

We get asked a lot, what is a functional occlusion? And I think a lot of people, as they look at The Dawson Academy, think that we have one formula for an occlusal scheme that we're going to apply 100% of the time on our patients.

And I certainly agree that when we are redesigning the occlusion if we diagnose an occlusion that's pathologic, that has signs of instability, such as wear, mobility, migration, and sore muscles, that Dr. Dawson's formula for occlusal therapy can be utilized.


No Signs of Instability

Functional occlusion, for me, means that when we look at a patient's occlusion that it is functioning appropriately for them. They are a patient that lack signs of instability.

So when you put on your CSI hat and you start doing your exam:

  • You don't see wear
  • You don't see migration
  • You don't see sore muscles
  • You don't see teeth that are loose
  • You don't see TMD patients
  • You DO see stability.
  • You DO see a patient that is functioning within the normal realm

Now, what's interesting about that, we sometimes see patients that don't look like the textbook. Sometimes, we see a patient that might have a little slide between CR and MI, or we might look in lateral movements and we see posterior teeth rubbing, but yet they're not breaking down. They have a functional occlusion.

Not Always Textbook Perfect

Occlusal Equilibration

And what we recommend in patients like that, if they have very minimal dentistry to do, maybe some scaling, and root planing, and a few fillings to do, maybe a single crown, we wouldn't recommend changing their occlusion to the textbook. We'd recommend maintaining that occlusion because they lack signs of instability, they lack occlusal disease.

So we're always going to recommend the occlusion that's going to be functional for the patient. Patients with no signs of instability, we're going to maintain the occlusion that exists there. But if they have signs of instability, their functional occlusion will be the one that we design following Dr. Dawson's principles of occlusion. I hope that clears that up.

To learn more about functional occlusion, register for the online course or reserve a seat at the upcoming live course Functional Occlusion - From TMJ to Smile Design.

Test your knowledge on occlusomuscle disorders 

John C. Cranham, DDS has an esthetic oriented practice in Chesapeake, Virginia. An honors graduate of the Medical College of Virginia in 1988, Dr. Cranham maintains a strong relationship with his alma mater as an Associate Clinical Professor. He is an internationally recognized speaker on the Esthetic Principles of Dentistry, Contemporary Occlusal Concepts, Treatment Planning, Restoration Selection, Digital Photography, Laboratory Communication, and Happiness and Fulfillment in dentistry. As a published author, Dr. Cranham has a strong commitment to developing sound educational programs that exceed the needs of today’s dental professional. He is an active member of numerous professional organizations including the American Dental Association, The American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, The American Academy of Fixed Prosthodontics, and The American Equilibration Society. Dr. Cranham is co-chair of Advanstar Dental Media’s CE Advisory Board (Advanstar is the publisher of Dental Products Report). Dr. Cranham is the Clinical Director of The Dawson Academy where he is involved with many of the lecture and hands-on courses within the curriculum. As an active educator, he has provided over 650 days of continuing education for dental professionals throughout the world.